My initial concern about the Micheletti-Zelaya accord has been mostly allayed. The first press reports, from the MSM were in error, not surprisingly. (Most U.S. and Latin media have been partial to Zelaya, or uninformed, or both). This may well result in a victory for Honduran democracy and a defeat for Zelaya, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and their supporters. It is also an embarrassing setback for this administration’s diplomacy, which ended accepting a deal it could have accepted several months ago had it not been vetoed by neophytes and ideologues at the White House and NSC.
Contrary to press reports, Zelaya is not in any way automatically returned to office by the accord. First, there must be a vote by the entire Honduran congress on whether Zelaya is fit to return to office. Prior to that, the Honduran supreme court, which ruled against Zelaya in June by a vote of 15 to 0, must issue an opinion on the same.
In other words, Zelaya must pass two big tests which he failed before: a judicial review by the highest court in the land, and approval by the legislature. While Zelaya’s Liberal party has the largest faction in the congress, it is also the party of Micheletti. According to my Honduran sources, there is no way that Zelaya can win a free and transparent ballot. At the present time Zelaya can count on less than 25 percent of the congress. In June, the same legislative body voted 122 to 6 against him. There will doubtless be a battle this time, and the anti-Zelaya forces fear that Hugo Chavez will try to buy votes for Zelaya. They are also concerned that the U.S. government not involve itself in the legislative process, especially U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens, who is widely seen as favoring Zelaya. The accord was facilitated when Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon reportedly promised Micheletti that Llorens will not attempt to influence the vote.
The bigger danger is Chavez, who is not constrained by scruples, decency or financial limits. Chavez will try to put his ally Zelaya back into office, even for a few weeks prior to the transfer of power, and preferably before the presidential election in November, so as to intimidate the opposition and claim a victory of sorts. The U.S. must do all it can to prevent the Venezuelans and their enforcers the Cubans from interfering.
Finally, we must thank the leaders and people of Honduras for having had the courage to resist the undue pressure of the Obama White House. In spite of threats, the cancellation of U.S. economic assistance, revocations of the visas of political and business leaders, and other sanctions previously reserved for our enemies and not for a friend like Honduras, that small country resisted the bullying of the Obama administration.
— Otto J. Reich served President Bush from 2001 to 2004, first as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere and later in the National Security Council. He now heads his own international government-relations firm in Washington.